Thursday, February 12, 2015

THOMAS HOBBES (1588-1679)

Tom Hobbes said that pure ideation
Is only decaying sensation:
If you’re thinking of me
When your eyes cannot see,
Your mind undergoes calcination.

Note: Thomas Hobbes was an inveterate materialist.  (He believed in God, but insisted that God is a material substance, which led many of his contemporaries to describe and deride him as an atheist).  For Hobbes, all that exists is merely matter in motion (or at rest).  This includes mental phenomena, such as sensation (which is reduced to a kind of motion in the body) and imagination (which is identified as no more than “decaying sense”).  Sensation decays (and becomes imagination) when it is obscured by other sensations or when the internal parts of the organs of sense that were in motion get destroyed over time.  This kind of decay, John Locke (see below) likens to “calcination”, which, in the 17th century, was understood as the pulverization of something by fire, its reduction to “calx” or powder.  Locke writes: “The pictures drawn in our minds are laid in fading colours; and if not sometimes refreshed, vanish and disappear…It may seem probable that the constitution of the body does sometimes influence the memory, since we oftentimes find a disease quite strip the mind of all its ideas, and the flames of a fever in a few days calcine all those images to dust and confusion, which seemed to be as lasting as if graved in marble” (An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, 2.10.5).    

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